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Grinding for the community

Posted: 6:45 a.m.

If his brother is the heart of the team, Dhani Jones the soul, and Bobbie Williams and Andrew Whitworth the conscience, then Jordan Palmer is the poet laureate of these 2009 Bengals.

Palmer, the No. 3 quarterback, is No. 1 in the locker room when it comes to summing it all up in a sound bite or less. Tuesday was no different as he stood in the middle of a mud pile in Price Hill in Mr. Greenjeans overalls helping out in the NFL's annual Hometown Huddle.

One of about 30 Bengals shoveling dirt, banging tie rods, moving sod, and generally looking like a competent contractor outfit, Palmer took his first timeout for one of his favorite pastimes and talked about his team.

"I love this team," Palmer said. "No prima donnas. Everybody wants to win. No one's happy we're 3-1. They're mad we're not 4-0. It's not that last year wasn't like that, but we've got a lot of winners on this team."

Tuesday became a tidy metaphor for a 3-1 season courtesy of four grinding games that have left teams with less resolve 1-3. It rained early so the work site at the Price Hill Community Center became muddy and grimy and they just laughed, pushed their honorary hard hats back, and went to work. Kind of like how the fourth quarters this season have dissolved into a quagmire of grit and heroics.

How tough is this team? Even a member of the media was out there in the mud with a shovel. Scott Priestle, who covers the club for, literally got the scoop trading some digging with Whitworth. Priestle and his wife are volunteers for Price Hill Will, a community action group, and the fit, as they say, was perfect.

Whitworth and Williams didn't lug in a lunch pail, but they brought the tradition of Bengals offensive linemen past. Center Kyle Cook, a construction management major at Michigan State, led a group pouring concrete and setting flower beds for individual gardens while Whitworth and Williams helped move dirt and build a fence around the beds.

The scene wasn't lost on Tonaruse Witherspoon, director of the Price Hill Community Center. Witherspoon, an award winner for being a community leader, knows what it takes to be a difference-maker.

"The offensive line building the fences," he observed.

"You could probably say this team has an offensive line's mentality," Cook said. "We show up no matter the weather, no matter what, and we're going to get it done with whatever it takes."

About 200 volunteers joined the Bengals in transforming the center's front porch. Along with a community garden, they put together a Parscourse FitCircuit with equipment for children designed to enhance balance, strength, agility, flexibility and endurance through a series of exercises.

"We'll have a walking track and community groups can come here and grow whatever they want in the gardens," Witherspoon said. "It's also a way to teach kids about eating healthy and staying healthy."

In between pounding some tie rods and lifting the frames for the flower beds over the fence, Palmer looked around and saw cornerbacks Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph pushing wheelbarrows of dirt. Joseph, he of the Rock Hill Josephs in Rock Hill, S.C., groused about Hall and David Jones and "all these city dudes" getting in his way.

"Look at those guys. Two of the best corners you'll find anywhere," Palmer said. "And they just show up every day. There's nothing flashy about them. They just play."

Hall had a little trouble maneuvering into a narrow space to dump dirt into a bed, but he used some of that same acumen that drives a receiver into the boundary. He backed up and came at it again.

"All in the angles," he said.

"Just a bunch of guys that come to work every day. If you're in our defensive meetings, sometimes you'll hear (defensive coordinator Mike) Zimmer say that," Hall said. "We don't need recognition. We just come in and get the job done."

Hall agrees about him and Joseph. Both prefer the low profile route, not always the case when it comes to big-time corners that can be the divas of the defense if you look around the league.

"Similar personalities in that sense," Hall said. "We've got a lot guys like that. I think that's why I enjoy this team so much. There are a bunch of guys I can relate to. There's nobody I dislike or I'm not friends with."

Hall can catch a metaphor like he can catch an interception. Right now there is mud and grit. But soon there will be gardens.

"We've got to keep it going," he said. "But it's beginning to look like that, isn't it?"

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